7 Things I Learned About Friendship From Working In An Intergenerational Office
I am 65, and for the past four years, HuffPost’s office in Los Angeles has been my work home. I am the oldest breathing soul in the building, something that I’ve grown accustomed to. I happen to like my officemates a great deal — and believe that that affection is reciprocated. But without a doubt, being the oldest employee comes with some distinctions — and life lessons. Here are a few:
1. You don’t have to be in the same life stage in order to be friends with someone.
Right now, we are celebrating two recent engagements in my office. Marriage proposal stories are such fun to hear, especially if you are a boomer who came of marriage age at a time when getting down on one knee or asking the woman’s parents for permission would likely have revoked your commune membership. Since my own husband asked me centuries ago to marry him with something like “Wanna?” I appreciate the thoughtful care that went into Ashley and Meredith’s proposals.
I am also genuinely interested in hearing the details of the weddings-in-the-works. I find myself cautioning them to not lose sight of the marriage in planning for the wedding.
In my current life stage, I’m preparing for our oldest child to leave for college in a year. My officemates have a wealth of information about the college application process and the college experience itself since it wasn’t that long ago for many of them. When my daughter applies next year, she will have benefited from the collective wisdom of these fairly recent graduates.
Our milestone events may not be the same, but the enthusiasm we have for one another’s important occasions is real. They came to my son’s Bar Mitzvah ceremony and I almost made it to Anna’s first-house party.
2. I don’t have to go to karaoke night to be part of the group.
Every office has a culture. Ours has a hipster vibe, where fun is encouraged. We work hard and we play hard. We have game nights and cocktail-tasting events. We have drink carts on Thursdays, share free bagels on Fridays and have corporate days where we volunteer. I pick and choose my spots but am always included by all. I like that. It’s the way it should be — even if I don’t show up most of the time.
When you think about it, we’ve always compartmentalized our friends. I have Mom friends and friends from my single days. I have friends from within the world of journalism and friends who are neighbors. I also have movie friends and hiking friends and trying-new-restaurant friends. I think it’s fine for boomers to have millennial friends.
3. If I’m their mentor, they are my educators.
I’m maternal by nature, which means I like to share the experience of my years — mostly about life, but sometimes about work too. And of course old dogs can be taught new tricks. Which makes us perfect. I like to think that I push the bar up journalistically here in the office. With my colleagues’ help I’ve become one of those 65-year-olds who knows more about the Internet than all her same-age friends.
4. We share indignation.
Except for my insistence that real music died about 10 years after Woodstock, our views are largely aligned. One thing I love is their support whenever I go off on age discrimination. Think about it: Many millennials can’t get their foot in the corporate door and many boomers like me have no plans to go anywhere. That alone could trigger animosities among lessers.
But in our case, they share my indignation over the small stuff that makes me explode. For example, companies that recruit for “digital natives.” I love that expression — digital natives — except when I see it in a job posting. Digital native means someone who was born with a cellphone in his or her hand. It’s been showing up lately in job postings when the company wants to hire someone young and has been cautioned against by H&R offices worried about age discrimination suits. I’m not sure how long the term “digital native” will be around, but I do know that my young friends agree with me that older people have a place in the workforce — and that we in fact enrich the office.
5. I am a walking history book, and they are the future chapters.
As digital natives — well, they are — they often encourage me to talk about the good old days of print journalism. They were shocked when I told them how 35 years ago, a county judge in New Jersey booted me out of the courtroom where I was reporting on a trial because I was wearing a pant suit. Ladies, he told me, wore skirts to his court and to do otherwise was showing disrespect. The next day, every female reporter I knew came to court with me — all of us wearing pant suits.
My young colleagues were equally stunned when I explained how I was told that I couldn’t be promoted because to do so would take a paycheck out of the hands of a “family breadwinner,” and how more than once I was asked why I didn’t just get married and have kids.
From my colleagues, I have learned how the new dress-for-success look is often my jeans and boots. They are my go-to resource for all things current. I now know where to shop, eat, drink and vacation. Heck, I even got Netflix to be able to join in the conversation.
6. Cash v. Card.
This continues to be our big divide. What is it with millennials and their aversion to cash? They all use plastic all the time for everything, including buying a soda off the food truck. I carry cash. It comes in handy for handing over to a mugger, which is precisely why I suspect they don’t carry any.
7. Technology made our lives easier.
At the risk of sounding trite, there really is an app for everything. And I thank my young colleagues for sorting through the clutter and letting me know which ones will really make my life easier. I knew about Uber, but not UberEats — which delivers a fresh lunch to my office in under five minutes. (H/T Joe Satran, HuffPost Taste writer.) From Healthy Living writer Anna Almendrala I learned about Withings, an interactive app that tracks your exercise, food, steps, weight, etc. She also was the first one to show me MyFitnessPal. And I’m a total fan of Venmo, a peer-to-peer money transfer system.
Probably more to the heart of things, they taught me that technology isn’t the big scary beast that so many of my own-age peers feel the need to dismiss disparagingly
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